Most of the people who come to our counselors at the Vineyard Counseling Center come with one fundamental problem, anxiety. This is because anxiety is an underlying component in almost every other diagnosis, symptom or mood disorder people have. The fact is, life can be very scary, and God has given us the capacity to feel anxiety to help protect ourselves when threats arise.
Unfortunately, this capacity can also rule over us and make us fear that life is spinning out of control whether the threats are real or imaginary. Our natural tendency is to do the very things that perpetuate and amplify anxiety. It will help us to understand this tendency so we can recognize it and confront it in order to get on with the challenge of staying in God’s presence. Staying in God’s presence is the only real place of peace and refuge from overwhelming anxiety. The Devil wants to distract you from God to keep you out of his presence. The demon, Screwtape, in C.S. Lewis’ book, Screwtape Letters, gives this advice to a trainee demon: "There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do: our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.” So, what is it that we should do to defend against anxiety?
Paul tell us, "Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Notice that he does not say, "Don’t FEEL anxious…”. It’s impossible for us as human beings not to feel anxious. Even Jesus felt anxious in the garden of Gethsemane, anticipating his crucifixion. To BE anxious is neglecting to pray and be thankful when we FEEL anxious. It is neglecting to take our fears and requests to him. When we’re fearful Satan will attempt to build a barricade between us and God. Thankful prayer and petition will enable us to break through the barricade.
Once the enemy hems us in with fear, he then lays on the guilt. When we believe that feeling anxiety means we lack faith, we tend to think God must be displeased with us. Therefore, we don’t respond with thankful prayer and petition because we feel under condemnation. The barricade is now complete, and God is no longer a refuge to run to but a disapproving judge to run from. To further strengthen the barricade, the devil will then throw in some real sins to remind us of. In other words, the brick and mortar used to build a wall between ourselves and God is guilt and condemnation. In this state of separation from God anxiety can now grow deep roots, because as we start thinking of all the terrible things that might happen to us in life, there is no reason to think he would protect us from pain or bring good out of the pain we do experience. Now we are stuck wallowing in the guilt of past sins, regret for our unbelief in the present, and fear of all the terrible things that await us in the imaginary future. Paul’s advice now seems hollow and growing through our anxiety impossible.
The apostle Peter can help with this problem. In 2nd Peter chapter 1 he describes what characteristics a growing, effective, Christian should have, and then at the end of the passage he says this: "But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins". Tearing down the wall between you and God begins with remembering your forgiveness in Christ. From there you can then move on to doing what Paul said to do in Philippians 4; worshipfully bringing your fears to a welcoming, loving, Father and focusing our mind on "… whatever is pure, lovely, admiral, excellent or praiseworthy…".
In Ole Hallesby’s classic book, Prayer, he describes prayer as coming to God with open, empty, hands in order to receive what we don’t have. We don’t have the power to forgive our own sins. We don’t have the ability to know the future or control what comes with it. We don’t have control over the threat of possible, future, sickness and death. WE do have a savior who invites us to bring our crushing burden of fear to him in exchange for his presence and reassurance. If we do this regularly and aggressively, anxiety can become the very thing that provokes us to grow strong as we exercise the muscles of faith.
If you struggle with anxious thoughts and feelings, there are several prayerful practices that can be useful tools... our Be Still Podcast was designed specifically to guide us in slowing down, getting present to God, and experiencing His peace through prayer.
If anxiousness is overwhelming you, or interrupting your ability to manage day-to-day activities, you might also want to reach out to one of our professional counselors or your doctor who can help you discern the difference between normal, healthy, temporary anxiousness and an anxiety disorder that might benefit from professional treatment.